A Spring Afternoon in Gero Onsen Town
Gero is one of the 3 famous onsen towns in Japan, located in the center of the country. During winter, it is always crowded with people there for a relaxing hot-spring vacation.
I am not a big fan of crowds or public baths, but given the fame of Gero, I had always been curious about it, so this spring, I spent the last day of my Seishun 18 Kippu and made my way into the mountains towards the onsen town.
The ride was long because I was taking local trains, but you can also reserve a seat on their express train from Nagoya to get there much quicker. With each passing station, I realized that the path was really deep into the countryside, going through many stations that aren’t even maintained by any staff. By the time I got there, it was 2pm already.
There I was, standing in front of the station on the edge of a place that just gives you the atmosphere of an ‘old town’. It wasn’t off-putting by any means. In fact, I enjoyed the feeling of being in an old onsen town in the middle of the mountains. And thanks to the season, it wasn’t crowded at all.
I did zero research ahead so that I could explore without expectations, but my stomach was reminding me of the urgency of getting lunch, so I walked into the 3rd restaurant I passed by and found myself in front of a menu full of local cuisines, mostly containing Hida-beef and hoba-miso, famous in the Mino area. Despite being high-class ingredients, the prices were very affordable as I was able to enjoy soba with hida-beef rice balls for about 1300 yen.
Then I realized that the reasonable pricing wasn’t only for the restaurant or food, but most souvenir shops had their products sold at about 15-30% cheaper than if you were to buy the same thing in, let’s say, Kyoto. Right outside the souvenir shop, they also had an ashiyu (foot spa) hot-spring free to the public.
Oh right, the hot spring!
I walked back into the souvenir shop and bought a cheap hand towel for 250 yen, so I could go around town and enjoy the many public ashiyu onsen. They were available all around town, and while the ones managed by inns and souvenir shops made their spa temperature easy to enjoy, several ashiyu onsen got the onsen water as hot as nature provided, perfect for the hot-spring veterans. In the 4 hours I spent walking around town, I was able to dip my feet into 8 different ashiyu onsen, and there were a couple others plus paid ones that I haven’t tried! Even if you’re not a fan of onsen (or the idea of getting completly naked with strangers in a natural bath tub), you can still enjoy hot-spring water for free in Gero.
If you do want to get into a hot-spring for free though, there is an open-air bath by the river, given that you don’t mind being visible to the hundreds of people walking crossing the main bridge in the town. There is a swim-suit required rule for that particular onsen, (but the men I was with weren’t really following it). With that said, I didn’t enter the open-air onsen, and instead, I enjoyed the beautiful spring cherry blossoms blooming fully along the side of the river.
Around 5:30 PM, I took the local train and headed back towards the city. Within the limited time, I felt like I was able to see most of what the town had to offer: a beautiful river, a shrine up in the mountains, delicious food, and tons of free foot-spas.
I know there are still other things around town for me to enjoy, such as the traditional village similar to the one found in Shirakawa-go, as well as the 1-day onsen pass that you can purchase and enter three of the hot-spring inns in town. It was one of the most peaceful day-trips I’ve had in recent years, and it reminded me why I enjoy this country: for the unique culture that I can find only in Japan.